Architecture has long been embedded in Portuguese civil society, and successful projects are known to have a positive influence on politics. One example is the program launched in 2007 by the then-Minister of Education Maria de Lurdes Reis Rodrigues—Parque Escolar EPE: a program for the rehabilitation of the country's secondary schools, which were built mostly in the 1970s. In its return to democracy in 1974, after the Carnation Revolution and independence of the colonies overseas, the new government decided that one of the starting points for re-establishing civil society was education, and instituted compulsory secondary education at a crucial moment when thousands of people fleeing from former colonial possessions.
The EPE program provides for the renovation of more than 300 secondary schools, with the creation of various facilities (libraries, computer rooms, technical laboratories, etc.) to help teaching practice keep pace with contemporary needs, at the same time transforming the school into a more social space—a key function for a contemporary multicultural Portuguese society. An array of high-profile architects such as Ricardo Bak Gordon, Gonçalo Byrne, Prata and Carlos Manuel Fernandes de Sá, among others, are participating in this program.
The Garcia de Orta Middle School in Porto is one such project. Ricardo Bak Gordon addressed a complex made up of pavilions in precast concrete by installing a new building on a long axis in a space between the gym and the central core. Divided into three blocks, it houses such functions as a new library, bar, auditorium, laboratories and a foyer.
Ricardo Bak Gordon is given to strong gestures, even in buildings that must meet very specific functions.